EDMONTON – Amid the squall of uncertainty surrounding the Edmonton Oilers these days, the brunt of the storm has yet to make landfall.
It is coming, though. That much is certain, at least in the eyes of those holding court in the dressing room.
Candidly responding to my question about the fast-approaching NHL trade deadline, Jordan Eberle offered up the following: “It’s not fun, plain and simple.”
For some teams gearing up for a sprint to the post-season, it might be – but for the 20-33-7, 29th-place Oilers, the writing is on the wall.
“We have a lot of UFAs, a lot of guys that could be moving on,” Eberle said. “It’s completely, 100 percent our fault. We’re not happy about it. I’m not happy about it. It’s part of the business, but it’s a blunt reminder of the poor season we’ve had. When you put yourself in this position by losing a bunch of games, you have to expect changes are going to be made.
“It’s tough to see friends and teammates go, but whoever it is and whenever it happens, none of us should be surprised.”
Eberle, 23, is in his fourth year with the Oilers. The deadline is but a gruff reminder of another lost season, hopelessly reduced to the spoiler role. Again.
“You want to be in a spot where you’re battling for position this late in the season,” Eberle said. “Especially with our schedule, playing  home games in our last 22, we’d be putting ourselves in a great spot. But we’ve dug ourselves this hole and we’re already in it with no way out this year.
“You’ve got to keep positive, because as soon as you start getting negative, things get a lot worse. It’s a matter of coming to the rink with a smile and putting your work boots on.”
Oilers General Manager Craig MacTavish met with reporters on Tuesday morning, outlining a plan similar to that of the Buffalo Sabres, New York Islanders, Florida Panthers and Calgary Flames.
“It’s not rocket science where we are right now and what our strategy is going to be moving forward,” MacTavish said. “We’ve got a number of guys that are UFAs, veteran players that are going to elicit some attention from teams around the league that are preparing for a playoff run.
“We’ll be in all those conversations. It’s a tough market to predict, but we’ll be having those discussions. … We’re going to be aggressively making those calls to let people know what our intentions are.”
Sell, sell, sell!
With nine players headed for unrestricted free agency, the Oilers are expected to be one of the most active teams between now and 3 p.m. ET next Thursday. The biggest headliner is lifetime Oiler Ales Hemsky, but others – including the likes of Ryan Smyth, Ryan Jones and Nick Schultz – could be of interest to contending teams pining for depth.
Referring to them as “secondary market” bargaining chips, however, MacTavish is not expecting much of a return. Considering the availability of marquee personnel (Thomas Vanek, Matt Moulson and Ryan Callahan, for example), many in his stack could be had for the low, low price of a mid-round pick. You know, the usual fare.
It’s valuable currency, of course, but it sure does lack in sex appeal.
The Oilers are currently without their second- and third-round picks at this year’s draft, as both were traded away in separate deals to acquire David Perron and Ben Scrivens.
“It’s a better scenario for us to get prospects, but teams are more reluctant at this point to part with coveted prospects than they are with draft choices,” MacTavish said.
“I’d be disappointed if we weren’t able to get a second- or third-rounder back, or potentially even more than that.”
This is a critical point for MacTavish and the Oilers organization moving forward. We know what this season has been – calamity on ice – but what about next year, and the year after that? In addition to the UFAs already at the NHL level, Oklahoma City Barons Taylor Fedun, Mark Arcobello, Tyler Pitlick, Anton Lander, Curtis Hamilton, Roman Horak and others are all on expiring contracts. Some, if not all, are expected to get a shot up in Edmonton before the season is out.
Some big decisions and “bold” moves lie ahead.
“Talk is cheap,” MacTavish so famously said upon his hiring as general manager last year.
So let’s see what happens.